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Flattening the curve in Newfoundland and Labrador: the story of a CDC nurse who led the way

“I feel we’re the truly hidden heroes of this pandemic,” says Suzanne Spurrell, a communicable disease control (CDC) nurse co-ordinator with the N.L. Eastern Health region.
By: Heather Marie Connors
June 13, 2020
Photo provided.

Suzanne Spurrell has spent her career working in public health, including participating in the response to H1N1, SARS and ebola. But the intensity of this pandemic is like nothing she has experienced before. For months Spurrell was in her office 12 - 14 hours a day, while her husband left meals outside her door.

Spurrell’s Eastern Health team managed what became known as Caul’s cluster, an outbreak that was traced to a St. John’s funeral home, where an initial 10 cases became 167 cases within 3 weeks.

Acting quickly, Spurrell trained 40 nurses to add to her team of ten. Their task was not only to oversee testing and treatment, but to conduct thorough contact tracing. Due to health care privacy laws, it was not technology they used, but old-fashioned pen and paper detective work, logging 6000 hours in one month.

“We didn't leave a stone unturned, I can guarantee you that,” Spurrell told the Chronicle Herald.

The goal was to manage the spread of the disease and flatten the curve. In particular, they worked to keep the virus from hitting long term care homes.

“We managed it. … Every day, we went in as a new day to do the best we can,” she said.

Other health interventions can take years to see results, but in this case the adherence to social distancing, the bans on social gatherings, and public health measures aimed at changing people’s habits, had a positive effect in the span of three months.

Although her team is back to 10 members, and they are able to shift their focus to other matters, Spurrell notes that their job will be done when they get their hands on a vaccine.

Source: The Chronicle Herald

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